BC Schools taking computing seriously
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1998. First
published in Vancouver Computes,
For all you parents, teachers, and students out there,
back to school time.
But if you?re a parent or a student in a BC elementary
school, you might be surprised to discover that September is supposed
be back to computer time as well.
That?s because the BC Ministry of Education has
mandated that Information
Technology be a required course for all students, from Kindergarten to
Grade 10. (In Grades 11 and 12, it is an elective course that can count
as a science or an applied skill).
But you might be further surprised when you see the
first report card
that in many or most cases, it?s not reported. That?s because, at the
time that the Ministry made the Info Tech K-10 curriculum mandatory, it
was not made a separate subject. Instead, the several hundred
Learning Outcomes (or ILOs as they?re referred to in edu-speak) are
to be integrated into the existing subject areas.
The result, presumably, is that Johnny and Mary will
be learning Information
Technology skills by using computers and the Internet while doing math
and science, art and language arts. But that also means that as a
student, or interested member of the community, you may have to do a
digging to find out what?s really going on in your school.
You may want to ask a few questions of your teacher or
- Does the school have an organized computer program?
How is it set up?
there a teacher responsible for it?
- How many computers does the school have? How are
they distributed? Is
a computer lab, that all students have access to at set times? Are
computers in the library? In classrooms? Are there enough computers for
students to get realistic amounts of access?
- Do students have access to the Internet? Is there
that students can use it for research when they need it? (Worrying
limiting kids access to sex and violence over the Internet is far less
important that finding a way to get them access to begin with).
- What is your individual teacher?s comfort level
with computers and the
Net? The Info Tech K-10 curriculum seems to imply that every teacher
be integrating the learning outcomes into her/his teaching?but if the
gives every students access to a computer lab run by a specialist
this will be less important. Is the school organizing professional
to improve teacher comfort levels and skills in these areas?
- How will the school be communicating to parents
about its Info Tech
Some elementary schools are sending home an addition to the report
discussing what students have accomplished in this area?just like with
music, art or other less-formal subject areas.
- Will the students be learning basic skills like
saving files? Using the Clipboard for copy and paste?
There has been a lots of progress in this area. Many schools and
districts have responded to the new curriculum in positive ways. Many
committees have engaged in fund-raising to enable the purchase of
The Provincial government has created PLNet?the
Network, as an initiative to try and provide Internet access to every
in BC. It?s just in the beginning stages?schools and districts should
plans to provide access on their own in the meantime.
At the same time, there are institutional barriers.
The Province doesn?t
recognize computer labs as ?enrolling space?, and doesn?t directly
funding for elementary schools to hire computer teachers. As a result,
according to the Vancouver School Board?s Director of Information
Karl Jones, ?There is a lot of debate about the role labs play in
District is likely to be promoting the use of smaller learning centres
in classrooms, due to the trend in that direction in the curriculum.?
But when computers are spread out throughout the
school, more depends
on the comfort, knowledge, and desire of the individual classroom
and too often there are not enough computers in any one place for
to gain basic skills or to use computers as more than an expensive
Vancouver?s Jones however, suggests that labs are just
one option of
several. ?There are other choices. There are some very good curriculum
packages (not just software, but complete teaching packages for
that work best in classrooms with a few computers each?. He concludes
I?d agree): ?Having someone set a clear direction in how teaching and
are served by whatever technology is in the school is the most
Computers are expensive?it?s often difficult, in
times to make decisions between technology, books, or even paper and
And while most of us know that students need to be comfortable with
throwing money at technology isn?t enough. Schools, districts, and
teachers need to have a clear vision of how they?re going to be using
and the Net in a way that?s educationally worthwhile.
(I have a vested interest in these questions. As a
in Vancouver, this Fall I?m starting a new job working with computers
an East Vancouver elementary school. I?ll let you know what I